Geneva Anderson digs into art

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale perform Handel’s “Messiah” at the Green Music Center Sunday, December 9, 2012

Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki leads the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in Handel’s “Messiah,” at the Green Music Center on Sunday, December 9, 2012.

Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki leads the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale in Handel’s “Messiah,” at the Green Music Center on Sunday, December 9, 2012. Photo: courtesy PBO

Handel’s beloved Messiah premiered in Dublin in 1742 and combines Old and New Testament texts concerning prophecies of a Messiah, or savior. One of the most loved of all musical c ompositions, it is synonymous with the holiday season.  Guest conductor Masaaki Suzuki—director of Bach Collegium Japan, and a formidable Handelian joins the Bay Area’s incomparable Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, and soloists from Yale University’s Institute of Sacred Music for a joyous performance of this extraordinary 18th-century masterpiece on Sunday, December 9, 2012, 3 PM at the Green Music Center’s (GMC) Weill Hall.  If you haven’t yet visited the acoustically stellar GMC, tis the season!

There is nothing in music more unstoppably beautiful than a Handel aria moving in slow, regal splendor. It is like a godly machine, crushing all ugliness and plainness in its path. (Alex Ross, New Yorker, May 8, 2006)

Guest conductor, Masaaki Suzuki.  Suziki, a renowned interpreter of sacred music, will conduct PBO and Chorale for the first time on Sunday and he hand-picked the 4 vocal soloists, all recent graduates of his exclusive Schola Cantorum at Yale University.  He combines his conducting career with his work as organist and harpsichordist and eminent teacher.  Born in Kobe, he graduated from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music with a degree in composition and organ performance and went on to become a leading Bach scholar.  “Suzuki is one of the world’s leading Bach conductors,” says Robert Cole, GMC’s programmer, who helped put Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley on the musical map, “I had him and his group at Zellerbach many times and he always made a lasting impression.  In this hall, well, I can’t wait to hear it—it’s going to be great.”

Soloists alumni from Yale University’s Schola Cantorum

Sherezade Panthaki, soprano

Claire Kelm, soprano

Fabiana González, alto

Dann Coakwell, tenor

Dashon Burton, bass-baritone

Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director

Messiah Facts:

  • A  performance of Handel’s “Messiah” lasts about 2 1/2 hours. Amazingly, Handel composed the entire oratorio in only 24 days.  It was begun on August 22, 1741. The first part was concluded August 28, the second, September 6, the third, September 12, and the instrumentation, on September 14.  It is an illustration of Handel’s almost superhuman capacity for work, that at the age of fifty-six he wrote this masterpiece in 24 days.
  • Until   Wagner’s work in the 19th century, virtually all opera and oratorio texts  were written by someone other than the composer.   For “Messiah”, Handel set to music the text taken from the literal words of Scripture, and the libretto was arranged by Charles Jennens, who was not satisfied with the music.   In a letter written at that time, he says: “I shall show you a collection I gave Handel, called ‘Messiah,’ which I value highly. He has made a fine entertainment of it, though not near so good as he might and ought to have done. I have with great difficulty made him correct some of the grossest faults in the composition; but he retained his overture obstinately, in which there are some passages far unworthy of Handel, but much more unworthy of the ‘Messiah.'”
  • “Messiah” is presented in three parts. Part I (the Christmas portion) starts with the prophecy and coming of Christ. Part II (the Easter portion) describes the passion and death of Christ.  Part III promises eternal life for believers.
  • “Messiah” is the exception to the definition of oratorio because it has no characters or even a plot but it is highly contemplative.
  • No hoop skirts!  No swords! :  The first rehearsal took place on April 8, 1742 in the presence of “a most Grand, Polite, and Crowded Audience,” according to “Faulkner’s Journal.”   The same paper, referring to the first public performance, which took place on Tuesday, April 13, 1742, says:   “At the desire of several persons of distinction, the above performance is put off to Tuesday next.  The doors will be opened at eleven, and the performance begins at twelve. Many ladies and gentlemen who are well-wishers to this noble and grand charity, for which this oratorio was composed, request it as a favor that the ladies who honor this performance with their presence would be pleased to come without hoops, as it would greatly increase the charity by making room for more company.” Gentlemen were also requested to come without their swords. “In this way,” it is said, “the stewards” were able to seat seven hundred persons in the room instead of six hundred.

More About Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra:  Now, in its 31st season, San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has been dedicated to historically-informed performance of Baroque, Classical and early-Romantic music on original instruments since its inception in 1981. Under the direction of Music Director Nicholas McGegan for the past 26 years, Philharmonia Baroque has defined an approach to period style that sets the current standard.  The group has been named Ensemble of the Year by Musical America, and “an ensemble for early music as fine as any in the world today” by Los Angeles Times critic Alan Rich.

PBO performs an annual subscription series in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is regularly heard on tour in the United States and internationally.  The Orchestra has its own professional chorus, the Philharmonia Chorale, directed by Bruce Lamott, and regularly welcomes talented guest artists such as mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, countertenor David Daniels, conductor Jordi Savall, violinist Monica Huggett, recorder player Marion Verbruggen, and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.

PBO musicians are listed here, along with information about the period instruments they play. In some cases, the instruments are historical treasures dating from the baroque and classical eras.  In other cases, the instruments have been produced by modern craftsmen working in the historical tradition.

PBO’s New Recording Label:  PBO has made 32 highly-praised recordings on original instruments, including its Gramophone award-winning recording of Handel’s Susanna-for harmonia mundi.   In 2011, PBO launched Philharmonia Baroque Productions, its own label and has 5 CD’s out, all of which will be for sale on Sunday at Weill Hall, along with their other older recordings.

The inagural CD for the label was the hauntingly beautiful  “Lorraine Hunt Lieberson – Berlioz: Les Nuits d’été / Handel: Arias”  featuring the great mezzo-soprano, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.  This was a newly released live recording from 1995 of Hunt singing the Berloiz cycle named after teh French translation of the title of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night Dream.”   The Handel selections were recorded live in 1991.  Hunt Lieberson was born in San Francisco, performed often in the Bay Area on her way up and never lost her Northern, CA identity.  She  died in 2006 of breast cancer and this is a particularly arresting recording which captures the essentially primal appeal of her distinctive voice.      

PBO’s newest CD is Brahams Serenades, which I’ve played continually since receiving it and keep finding inspirational passages that delight me.  Writing of the live performance from which the Brahms CD was made, which I did not have the pleasure of hearing, Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle said, “Nothing affirmed the power of [the historically-informed] approach like the splendid performance of the Serenade… [McGegan] embraced every opportunity to give the music a musky physicality – especially in the outer movements, whose rhythmic force was arresting.”

PBO performs Beethoven, Symphony 9, 2nd movement (complete), Molto vivace:

Details:  Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs Handel’s “Messiah” on Sunday, December 9, 2012 at 3 p.m. at Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall, Green Music Center, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park.

Tickets are $90 to $35 and can purchased online (click here) OR by phoning the Box Office at (866) 955-6040. Box Office hours: Monday–Thursday 8 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. and Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. OR  in person at the Green Music Center (same hours as above).  The Box Office is also open 1 hour prior to all performances.

Parking for this Green Music Center performance is included in ticket price.  Enter via Sonoma State University’s main campus entrance or its Rohnert Park Expressway entrance (closer to GMC). Park on campus in lots L,M,N and O.  For more information, visit or phone 1.866.955.6040.

December 8, 2012 Posted by | Classical Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment